The Sacred Lesson From Nature That Healed My Burnout — For Good
Even if you don’t like to go camping or get irritated by bugs, I bet you can easily recall a time you fell in love with nature.
Maybe it was a moment in your childhood spent running barefoot on the wet grass, or climbing trees and feeling as free as can be. Or maybe it was just this morning, with the light dappling delicately on your wall and welcoming you to a new day.
I’ve found that asking people to tell me about a time they fell in love with nature is a simple way to find common ground. I’ve asked this to hundreds of people from different backgrounds, occupations, cultures, and religions around the world—and no one has ever been stumped. If they hesitate, it’s because it takes them a second to decide which story to share first.
Interestingly, when I ask people to share the story of a time when nature loved them back, I am often met with blank stares. For the most part, people don’t understand what I mean. They don’t necessarily have a clear memory of a time they felt cared for by the Earth. I don’t blame them—I used to be the same way.
My journey toward a more reciprocal relationship with nature.
Overwhelm, overthinking, and over-reactivity were regulars in my life not that long ago. I had been working on a purposeful business in San Francisco that I loved. It was work that had me collaborating with humanitarian organizations in a way that brought a lot of meaning to my life. I was so enthusiastic about what I was doing that, in a sneaky sort of way, the more I worked, the more energized I felt—or so I thought.
Most of my work was done in front of my computer. On many days I didn’t see any nature beyond the pictures on my laptop’s wallpaper. Without even realizing it, I slipped into the grim statistic of the “average” person who spends 90 to 95% of their time indoors.
At some point, overworking and neglecting self-care caught up with me: When the last drop fell, I collapsed. I was so wiped out that I couldn’t put myself together to work for a few months.
During my time off, my intuition guided me to volunteer on a small organic farm nearby. Up until that point, I had spent a lot of time around forests, mountains, and oceans, but I knew nothing about farming. But it didn’t take long for my love of nature to reawaken and deepen on the farm.
On the field, I found just as many moments of wonder and awe as I did crops. I was mesmerized by the way the cool fog rolled through the pronounced valley, the sparkling droplets of dew formed on new life, and the red-tailed hawk gazed down on me from power lines above.
As I grounded in this real world, this outdoor world, my inner calm came back. And with it, my clarity—and my commitment to not stray so far from the land ever again.
It wasn’t until I let myself be loved by the nature around me—or rather until I let myself appreciate the fact that I was always being loved by it—that I really started to experience deeper healing. The experience enriched my life in such a way that I soon ran out of words to describe it. Inevitably, I landed on “sacred.”
Now, I celebrate the little reminders that the natural world loves me—and all of us—back.
In one of my favorite books ever, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of how she knows nature loves her by saying, “That’s easy. No one would doubt that. I love my children. And even a quantitative social psychologist would find no fault with my list of loving behaviors.” Some of the ones she lists are nurturing health and well-being, protection from harm, encouraging individual growth and development, and generous sharing of resources.
Her words inspired me to consider how those loving behaviors played out on the farm, one by one:
The transformation comes not when nature loves you. She always does. It comes when you realize that fact and appreciate it, deeply soak in it, and, eventually, align to it. That is how a bond that we can refer to only as “sacred” arises.
During these days of love—and on all days—may you, and all future generations, of all species, be enveloped by this heart-filling, soulful, all-expansive sort of love.
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